SOUTH THOMASTON — Nearly 100 residents turned out Tuesday evening, June 28, to approve a $1.8 million municipal budget and to buy two fire department vehicles.
The 92 people who attended the annual meeting at the Ash Point Community School in Owls Head also municipal officials, approved the creation of a non-profit organization that raise money for a new community center on the grounds of the former Gilford Butler School , and agreed to contribute money to support the Maine Lobstermen’s Association legal battle with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Residents agreed to authorize the Select Board to spend up to $850,000 to purchase or lease/purchase a new tanker fire engine and a new or used utility fire truck. The vehicles would be paid by borrowing up to $438,683 for a term not exceeding seven years, use of $350,482 from the fire truck reserve fund, and a 2024 appropriation of $60,834.
Residents elected Sue Snow to the Select Board seat. She succeeds Walter Reitz who did not seek re-election after serving two consecutive three-year terms. Snow was uncontested.
Brad Choyt was elected to represent the town on the Regional School Unit 13 Board. He was appointed by the Select Board in August 2021 to fill the seat vacated by Lane Sturtevant. Choyt was later elected by the RSU 13 Board to serve as its vice chair. He was uncontested for the seat.
Residents approved by a 54-38 vote a warrant article to allow the Select Board to form a non-profit corporation to be called the Library and Community Center Auxiliary, which would be responsible for raising money for planning and construction of a library and community center at the site of the former Gilford Butler School.
Select Board Chair said he saw no downside to creating the committee since it would not cost the town any property tax dollars.
Select Board member Jeffrey Northgraves said the fire marshal told the town it cannot use the lower level of the former Gilford Butler School for large gatherings, such as a town meeting, unless significant renovations are made to have the space meet safety regulations.
The building is currently being used by the town library.
Resident Linda Maltais said the library was a welcoming place. She asked why the town would create a corporation to raise money for a new community building when a decision has not been made on whether to level or preserve the existing building.
Residents approved at the June 2021 annual town meeting the creation of the Library and Community Center Facility Committee which has recommended the creation of the non-profit corporation. Residents also agreed in 2021 to relocate the library to the Gilford Butler building for up to five years.
Northgraves said a non-profit corporation can access grants a municipality cannot.
Town backs lobster harvesters
Residents also voted June 28 to contribute $7,500 to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s Legal Defense Fund to try to prevent rules from being implemented that would threaten the lobster industry.
David Cousens of South Thomaston, who served for 27 years as president of the MLA, said the money was needed for the important issue.
He said the legal fight against rules being proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect right whales would decide the fate of lobstering.
“We want fair rules,” Cousens said.
He said $25 million in lobsters come across the docks in South Thomaston each year and supports the local economy. Select Board member Walter Reitz said 17% of residents are involved in the lobstering industry.
The cost of the legal fight will be $1 million a year but is an investment that must be made, Cousens said.
“If we lose, we’re screwed,” Cousens said.
Election of town officials
Voters approved an advisory article that would have the Select Board place a warrant article on the June 2023 town meeting to have town officials by secret ballot at the polls. The voting would occur at the same time the election for the school budget and party primearies in June.
The Select Board could also place questions before voters at the polls rather than the annual town meeting.
Select Board members pointed out more people would participate at the polls than turn out for the annual town meeting.
Former Select Board member Cheryl Waterman said such a change would diminish the annual town meetings.
The advisory article was approved with a handful of no votes.
The proposed municipal budget for 2022-2023 of $1,816,802 was approved nearly unanimously. The last budget approved was an 18-month one which allowed the town to transition from a calendar year budget to a 12-month fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30. The 18-month budget approved by voters was $2,270,971 and covered the period from Jan. 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022.
The 12-month budget for 2020 was $1,584,843.
In the approved 2022-2023 budget, the largest account is public safety at $478,000. This includes $277,813 for the ambulance service and $128,894 for the fire department.
The general government budget was approved at $457,980. The public works budget was approved at $356,795. The health and sanitation budget was approved at $284,211. The reserve funds account was approved at $110,720.
Grill fire damages Owls Head home